Prosecutors charged a former employee of the Cook County Assessor's office Tuesday with stealing nearly $170,000 -- and using the money to shop at department stores and cover her daughter's college costs.
Joyce Pierce, 51, allegedly raided an account kept for handling Freedom of Information requests, according to prosecutors. If convicted, she faces up to 15 years in prison.
Pierce managed the Freedom of Information department in Assessor James Houlihan's office. When the office levies charges for documents, those funds go into a bank account, sources said.
According to assistant state's attorney John Carey, Pierce "withdrew for her personal benefit approximately $169,000 from the Cook County Assessor's account" at Chase Manhattan Bank. Pierce, an eight-year employee, made the multiple withdrawals from November 2002 through November 2005, he said.
A source in Houlihan's office said the theft went undetected because the county stopped doing audits every year. But a law enforcement source said "there was really no oversight." The theft came to light after a periodic audit, which revealed documents had been altered.
"We take the public trust very seriously and are cooperating fully with the investigation," Houlihan said in a statement. "We have taken steps to make sure this sort of problem doesn't happen again."
Pierce bought money orders and used them to pay off credit card bills and, on one occasion, to pay $750 to the University of Pennsylvania, Carey said. Pierce's daughter, 21, attends the school, a source said.
The credit card expenditures included purchases at Marshall Field's, Nordstrom and Saks, Carey said.
Pierce, of Chicago's Roseland community, pleaded not guilty Tuesday. Her attorney, Neil Cohen, said she is likely to plead guilty later.
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